Monday, May 11, 2015

The Missing Column

  I wrote a chess blogging column for The Chess Journalists of America’s magazine ‘The Chess Journalist’ (you can see the archived issues here) from the 2011 fall issue to 2013 triple spring/summer/fall issue. For all I know I may still be writing a column for the magazine but there hasn't been an issue published since that 2013 triple issue. I started out getting two columns ahead and got in the habit of submitting a new column when I got an issue in the mail so the editor always had a column and I had plenty of time to prepare for my next column. I didn't receive an issue from late in 2012 until early in 2014 and was definitely out of the quarterly publishing habit. A burst of CJA activity in early 2014 led to two issues being published in short order and I was left without a column in the hand. I submitted a column on March 6th, 2014 and 14 months later it still is waiting for an issue of ‘The Chess Journalist’ to be published for it to appear in. Since I have doubts whether this column will ever see the light of day I thought I’d use the occasion of my 500th blog post to display another side of my writing.

  I tried to alternate my columns between the technical aspects of blogging with a more refined version of my chess blogging. The best part about writing a column for a national magazine was being able to get many local chess personalities' names and pictures in front of a national audience. The weekend chess playing crowd at Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure or Iowa State Fair chess legend David Skaar didn't need to be in 'The Chess Journalist' but having them made my columns (and the magazine in my opinion) far more entertaining.

  My limited dealings with chess journalists have found them to be a finicky type that I felt wouldn't appreciate my semi-lowbrow writing style so in my column I attempted to use journalistic sounding words like ‘embellish’, ’rife’, and ‘metaphorical’. I hope you'll remember that this column was written for an audience of ‘chess journalists’ and not my regular blog readers. So without further ado (notice the transition to the journalistic word ‘ado’)…

Boots on the Ground

No sooner had I made my affinity for boxing as a metaphor for chess known in this column two issues ago I was made aware of another frequent metaphor for chess: the military.

It’s only natural that a game with origins as a military training tool would have many military expressions associated with it. The brutish attempt to mate opponent on the f2 or f7 square is frequently called the ‘Blitzkrieg’ attack in addition to the more popular term ‘Scholar’s Mate’ and it may well be an optimal strategy in a game of ‘Blitz’ or ‘Bullet’ chess. Seemingly equal middle and endgames are often decided by which side can successfully execute a ‘flanking’ maneuver on their opponent.

Chess literature and chess journalism is rife with military references from the ’64-square battleground’ to calling pawns ‘foot-soldiers’ and rooks and queens ‘heavy artillery’ to Victor Moskaleno’s description of a knight sacrifice on d4 in a completely locked pawn structure as the ‘Trojan Horse’ sacrifice in his book 'Revolutionize Your Chess'.And any discussion of military metaphors for chess must contain a salute to the commander-in-chief of military metaphors in chess: Franklin K. Young, the prolific writer of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who tried to boil chess down to a series of military principles (“As the salients repel adverse attacks along diagonals, so the supporting parallels oppose radii of offence directed along verticals” –The Minor Tactics of Chess: A Treatise on the Deployment of the Forces in Obedience to Strategic Principle).

My favorite military expression as it relates to chess blogging is ‘boots on the ground’. The military meaning is fairly clear: ground forces engaged in conflict as opposed to troops in reserve, personnel on clerical or KP duty, or programmed drones seeking out their targets in automaton fashion. How does this relate to blogging? When your ‘boots are on the ground’ as an active participant in the chess world you will receive a wealth of material and subjects to write about in return for your participation. In this column I want to provide examples of how my blogging has benefited from having ‘boots on the ground’ in the hope that they will provide inspiration and encouragement to the aspiring chess blogger that may be struggling to find subject matter.

One of the easiest ways to get ‘boots on the ground’ is to compete in a tournament. Any tournament game I notate gets into my blog no matter what the result (See my column in TCJ #142 for information on how to publish chess games in your blog). Some bloggers only show their victories and others just share their defeats but including everything will help connect with readers who will relate to your ups and downs and bumps in the road more than a straight line chronicle of triumphs or tragedies. You can retain interest among your non-chess playing readers by personalizing your opponents (a picture, occupation, mannerisms, etc…) and sharing some details of your trip when travelling to play. Few remember my posts last year about my pedestrian result at the Jackson Super Reserve or my Blue Ribbon performance at the 2013 Iowa State Fair Speed Chess Tournament but many readers took the time to send feedback when I wrote of my discovery that the advertised ‘Regional Breakfast Item’ at the Jackson Minnesota Super 8 Motel consisted of a tray of hard-boiled eggs! While tournaments, playing sites, and games can tend to be indistinguishable over time the amusing clerk at the convenience store, repairing a flat tire on the way to a tournament, or even a tray of hard-boiled eggs have the power to make your chess tournament adventure a unique and memorable article or post.

I also get ‘boots on the ground’ by organizing and directing chess events. In September of 2013, I was approached by Life Master Tim Mc Entee about helping put on a one day three round tournament open to anyone that had ever attained a USCF rating of 2000. Tim had obtained a sponsor to put up over $1000 in prize money so there would be no entry fee. I agreed to direct and my hometown Marshalltown Iowa Salvation Army volunteered to host the tournament at no charge. We named the tournament the $1150 Expert Open and set the date for February 8th. A month later I received permission from Tim to hold a reserve tournament for the non-experts with the idea of enticing the experts and masters to bring their friends along to play in the reserve tournament and share the drive. I decided to name the reserve tournament after my blog and called it the Broken Pawn Reserve.

Everything was proceeding normally when I got an email from my friend Ben Tessman who is also an admin for the ‘Team Iowa’ group on Ben told me the group was looking to have a meet-up and if I knew anywhere they could have one. I suggested that the group have a meet-up tournament as a separate section to go along with the other two tournaments. The offer was accepted and now I had three tournaments scheduled. The day was already promising to be special and ten days before the tournament Tim and I received an email from Will Liang to let us know his son Awonder, the current world ten year old champion (You can see him on the cover of the March 2014 Chess Life) would be playing in the tournament. As a bonus Will was able to bring his other three children to play since we were having the reserve tournament.

A tournament for experts and above and a reserve tournament would be worth a blog post but hosting the group and a world chess champion family turned the day into a chess festival and provided a large amount of chess writing material. The week before the tournament I wrote a post detailing the twists and turns that changed a staid tournament into a much anticipated event. The week after the tournament I focused on 5 participants that had been playing in tournaments I directed for almost 10 years and showing pictures of them from then to now (one of the benefits of having ‘boots on the ground’ for over a decade!). The following week was devoted to a review of the tournament and what it was like for the participants, onlookers, and the tournament director to spend a day with a world champion and his family.

In addition to the blog posts, I submitted a tournament write-up to Chess Life Online that was published on the USCF web site and photographer Cliff Yates created a unique photo montage that can be seen at There was a lot of good fortune involved to find myself in the middle of a memorable tournament that provided so many writing subjects but much of the good fortune was made by being willing to be an active participant in the planning and staging of the event. Blogging about other people’s chess activities (software and book reviews or annotating games for example) is all well and good but by putting your ‘boots on the ground’ you will have a wealth of first person material for your chess blogging and other journalistic efforts.